5 Things Dog Owners Should Know About Ticks

Young man taking care of a dog
Marc Oeder / Getty Images

Ticks are external parasites that attach to and feed on the blood of their hosts. In North America, there are at least eight species of ticks that routinely feed on dogs. These same ticks can also affect humans.

Ticks are increasing in prevalence. In 2014, the Companion Animal Parasite Council announced that tick territories were expected to expand and that tick-borne diseases would pose a higher threat to pets over time. 

As a dog owner, here’s what you need to know about ticks:

  • 01 of 05

    Ticks Carry Disease

    attached tick

    iStock.com / Henrik L

    Ticks are known vectors for some potentially dangerous diseases. Not all ticks transmit disease, but the threat is real. The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy, though some can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia.

    Common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and more. Ticks may also cause localized redness, infection, and even temporary paralysis.​

  • 02 of 05

    Ticks Are Experts at Finding Hosts

    Close-up of Wood Tick or American Dog Ticks on grass, mating.
    Stephen J. Krasemann / Getty Images

    Ticks are hardwired to sense motion, body heat, and carbon dioxide (which is exhaled by animals). They hide out in tall grasses, brush, and similar areas, waiting for a good host to approach. That's when they climb aboard. Once on the host, the tick finds a place to attach its mouth parts. The tick drinks the host's blood until it becomes engorged. It is during this time that dangerous pathogens can enter the host's bloodstream.

  • 03 of 05

    Ticks Don't Just Live in the Woods

    tick warning sign

    iStock.com / Chiyacat

    Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants until a host is found. Though there are plenty of ticks in wooded areas, this is not their only habitat. Ticks can live in your backyard, even in urban areas. Keeping grass short and plants neatly pruned can help minimize the presence of ticks, but there is no guarantee. Check your dog regularly for ticks as a precaution.

    Also remember that some ticks may hitch a ride into your home on the dog, then, if they have not yet attached, jump onto you or another pet. If you have been in an area where ticks might be hiding, unroll the cuffs of your pants and shake them out before entering the house. Check yourself and your kids (human and non-human) for ticks just in case.

  • 04 of 05

    There's a Certain Way to Remove a Tick From Your Dog

    tick removal

    iStock.com / sasel77

    It's not that difficult to remove a tick if you know how to do it properly. First put on gloves, if possible. Use tweezers or a specially designed tick-removal tool. Position the tweezer tip or tool at the site where the tick's mouth meets the skin. Pull the tick straight out. Take care not to squeeze the body of the tick, as this can inject disease-causing bacteria into the dog. Tricks like burning the tick with a match or smothering it with petroleum jelly don't work and are potentially dangerous. Also, if the head stays in the skin, gently remove it with the tweezers or leave it alone to work its own way out. Watch the area for the next few days. Contact the vet if you notice significant irritation or signs of infection.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Ticks Can Be Prevented

    tick product being applied to a dog

    iStock.com / cynoclub

    The best way to protect your dog from ticks is to prevent them in the first place. There are a variety of effective tick prevention products that can help keep your dog safe (many also prevent fleas). Talk to your vet about the best product for your dog. However, know that none are 100% effective. If you live in or travel to an area where ticks are prevalent, you should still check your dog frequently. Removing ticks before they attach (or shortly after) will help prevent disease.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.